BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 05 MAR 14
Featured in
Issue 161

Sophie Jung

BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 05 MAR 14

Sophie Jung Nothing, It Just Waves, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable

We might imagine Sophie Jung, an artist much concerned with word games, verbal slippages and lexical happy accidents, incanting the title of her charming, disarming exhibition ‘Learning About Heraldry’ over and over to herself, testing its every term, its every phoneme, until it slides from her grasp like a bar of wet soap. ‘Heraldry’ suggests coats of arms, and each of the eight sculptural assemblages on show at Ceri Hand Gallery resembled, with their coded admixtures of language and imagery, something close to emblematic devices. Jung’s title, though, also evoked the figure of the herald. Each fitted out with an iPod Shuffle and a pair of ear-buds, the works in the exhibition appeared to be accompanied by their own educative audio-guide, through which their presence might be formally announced, and their meaning might be blazoned. Pressing the ear buds in, visitors were instead buoyed on zephyrs of thought, gusts of song and flights of verbal fancy, all delivered in Jung’s astonished pan-European tones. I got to thinking of the messenger god Mercury, patron of writers and trickster par excellence, whose very name promises fluidity where we might ordinarily expect something solid and fixed.

Adopting what Jung self-mockingly describes, in the audio of her sculpture Learning About Heraldry (all works 2013), as ‘the Glasgow lean […], the contemporary tilt’, many of the pieces in her show were propped against the gallery walls, like garden implements in a cobwebbed shed. In Notice Otis, a spider sat atop a length of copper pipe, the other end of which was slotted inside a conch shell. On the accompanying soundtrack, Jung delivered a snatch of Roy Orbison’s 1963 ‘In Dreams’ (‘a candy-coloured clown they call the sandman / Tiptoes to my room every night’), guiding the viewer’s eyes down towards several bags of brightly hued plaster ‘stardust’ on the floor, then asking, ‘Did you know we eat eight spiders per night?’, before breaking into a series of stage coughs. Memory played a role in Easy Share, in which a digital photo frame screened images of unicorns, soundtracked by excerpts from Don Draper’s famous Kodak Carousel pitch in the first season of Mad Men (2007): ‘This device […] lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.’ Over these words, Jung uttered ‘Fuck yeah!’ in the manner of a giddy DVD commentary. Beside the screen stood a Perspex CD stand adorned with a deflated handball, several shells, an origami duck and what the gallery listed as a ‘prosperity rock’. Might we take these items to be mementoes, part of a very personal heraldry? What, then, of the work’s title, Easy Share? Sharing every mote of one’s life, in a world of social media, is indeed easy, although in the company of so many carouselling solipsists, quite who is looking at, or learning from, one’s digital coat of arms remains moot.

In Stewie’s Drawing, three Air Dough casts of a hand giving a Facebook-like thumbs-up were positioned high above three tiny projectors, each screening a scene from Family Guy (1999–ongoing), in which the camply sophisticated, intellectually self-regarding and often malevolent baby, Stewie, draws a picture for his dumb-ass working-class parents, who break into laughter at its ‘babyish’ qualities. This is a joke not only about the gap between artistic hopes and audience reception, but also about the difficulty of any communication between one soul and another. Jung’s solution – exemplified in her video, in which she speaks direct into a webcam fitted with a Rorschach filter – is seduction, sense be damned. As she flits from human alarm clocks to the child-labour practices of high-street clothiers, from a bank ad featuring a priapic corn cob to the pleasing effects of a yoga position on her own behind, what carries the piece is not narrative propulsion, but her breathless, half-daffy, half-sexy demeanour. Contemporary heraldry, it seems, is not about content, but character. Like liquid mercury, it is ungraspable. We can only watch it shine.

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze, based in Rochester, UK.